Clergy homecomings

Saturday, May 11, 2002

The Rev. Dr. Clayton and Lori Smith have a home much larger than they'd likely have purchased for their family, but the house at 700 Bellevue came as part of the package when Clayton took the post as senior pastor at Centenary United Methodist Church.

"We live in a big, beautiful house," and the home is much larger than the standard for church parsonages, he said.

But there are few parsonages, also called manses, remaining in Southeast Missouri. Many area churches provide a housing allowance for their pastors instead of providing a house.

Of the 30 churches in the Cape Girardeau Baptist Association, only nine still have parsonages, and most of those are in rural communities.

It used to be customary for churches to provide a home for their pastors but the reasons for not doing so vary from the expense of owning and maintaining the house to giving pastors a chance to build equity so they'll have a home when they retire. Another factor is the growing staff at area churches.

Owning a parsonage can be a good thing for pastors or it can be an albatross for the church, said the Rev. Dr. Andy Pratt, director of the Baptist Student Center and a religion professor at Southeast Missouri State University.

"It was a good idea on the frontier when churches didn't have the money to give to ministers," he said. "Housing was a tremendous part of their compensation."

Retirement issue

But now it is more complicated because pastors have no home once they retire and no equity to use if they're buying a house.

"And houses have become more expensive to own," Pratt said.

The Rev. Terry Eades, pastor of First Baptist Church in Scott City, Mo., and his family lived in a home owned by the church for about five years. But as he and his wife approached middle age, the couple wanted to purchase their own home.

The parsonage system "has just caused a lot of elderly pastors trouble and I know some of those guys," Eades said. "I told the church that as we reached middle age we needed to own a home."

Eades did his financial homework and determined how much of his net worth was lost each year because he wasn't building equity in a home. It was substantial enough that he asked the church to consider selling the parsonage and give him a housing allowance instead.

The family purchased a house in Scott City and moved out of the parsonage. The house, located next door to the church, sat empty for a few years but eventually was sold.

Because pastors are able to buy their own homes, their average tenure is getting longer, Eades said. He's been pastor at the church for 12 years.

The home next door to Centenary was donated to the church by Charlie and Connie Harris and has been used as the parsonage for at least 40 years.

"The generosity of the Harrises needs to be lifted up today," Clayton Smith said.

Like most United Methodist pastors, the Rev. Anselm Williams of Grace United Methodist Church, lives in a parsonage.

Since Methodist pastors are appointed by the bishop, the parsonage system makes it easier for a church to receive a new pastor. And parsonages are usually close to the church, Williams said.

The convenience of a parsonage is an advantage, said Lori Smith. "I do love living next door," she said. Her husband walks "20 paces to work and that's just fantastic."

The family has lived in the house for about six years. It is the first parsonage Lori Smith has lived in but the second for Clayton, who was assigned to a church that had a parsonage before the couple met and married.

Living in a parsonage also means Lori does less driving than other parents with teen-age children active in church programs. "They just say 'Mom, I'm going to church' and I don't have to drive back and forth."

But by the same token, decorating or making repairs in a parsonage requires permission from the church. When the Smiths moved into the house, Lori asked that all the carpeting be removed and the wood floors restored. She also removed the heavy drapes from the windows and painted all the walls white to add light in the rooms.

"Doing just those few things make a big difference," she said.

335-6611, extension 126

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